An old-fashioned killer croc film, Rogue takes its time building less clichéd characters than Adam Green's Hatchet (2006), which uses a similar narrative of a swamp tour stranded in the bayou while an ax-wielding maniac is bent on killing humans for future consumption. Both films have city folks traumatized by natural wild/feral elements after the tour boat is sunk, but Rogue director Greg Mclean also knows the remote and feral pockets of Australia are also important characters, whereas Green spends far more time than necessary on exchanges between whiny annoying characters before they're picked off by the film's main threat.
Rogue also saves its gore for the final reel, and it's actually less wet than expected; people die horribly, but the deaths are often obfuscated by lighting and dark pockets, until the end battle that has hero Pete (Alias' Michael Vartan) rescuing a character in the croc's literal root cellar.
Mclean's prior film, Wolf Creek (2005), was both a spirited tribute to the nihilistic seventies slasher films (namely Texas Chainsaw Massacre) as well as Australia's own brand of cruel revenge flicks, but in Rogue, he celebrates the gorgeous, foreboding Aussie landscape that was always a major element in the exploitation films of the seventies and early eighties.
The story is nicely balanced by American travel writer Pete who ends up stuck in a traumatic situation far removed from his usual beat, and Aussie lass Kate (Pitch Black and Visitors' Radha Mitchell), the tour guide and boat captain whose entire life has been centered in the film's expansive, dangerous pocket. Most of the boat's tourists are minor characters who fail to rise about croc chum, although a mother in her final stages of cancer offsets the usual clichés, and those selected to live or die aren't always the ones viewers were expecting.
(One amusing surprise is Robert Taylor in a small role, drenching his minor character with the kind of brawny arrogance that flowed in the superb caper film The Hard Word. Taylor's other foray in Aussie exploitation is the nasty Storm Warning, Jamie Blanks' own effort to revisit his country's thriller/slasher heritage.)
Rogue is also a worthy effort because it combines CGI with practical effects and excellent stunts. The croc is a wonderful and believable monster whose natural behaviour of chomping and thrashing prey is depicted by mixing roped up and harnessed stuntmen with seamless digital effects. The gore is also a tight blend of practical makeup and hideous latex appliances, and the final battle between man and beast is a tense sequence wherein urbanized Pete is forced to draw from his latent survival instincts to match the croc's full-throttle brutality to survive.
Director Mclean also intersperses a lot of nature footage to convey the biology of the area, often as subtle poetic visuals against the garish colours of the traveling tourists in the opening reels, and later as extensions of the characters' battle to survive (insects escaping the water) as the river tides come back, and slowly smother the dinky island that's keeping the dwindling group safe from the croc.
Dimension's DVD packs a lot of excellent making-of material into this release, although one gets a sense much of it stems form the director who sought to document and give credit to his superb crew. Besides the usual effects featurettes, there's also a long piece on composer Francois Tetaz who crafted a very unique score that combines all kinds of exotic instruments and modern concepts into a work that plays with audience expectations, and later enhances the characters' survival in the wild. Like his score for Wolf Creek, Tetaz treats the film and its characters with a great deal of care, and transcends a genre usually known for workmanlike scores designed to shock audiences instead of supporting a film's elements.
Among the increasingly garish and sadistic fodder on the Dimension Extreme label, Rogue is a far more accessible and fun ride, and a solid tribute to Australia 's ongoing exploitation genre.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan